Now, a personal injury lawyer, her passion for SCIO’s vision has grown stronger over the years. Today, she is a partner at Oatley Vigmond, a mother of two, wife to a Hamilton firefighter and a board member at SCIO, helping to shape the organization’s future.
“I found an article that I was featured in. The Raptors cheerleaders had come out to support the wheelchair relay event. I had participated in lots of charity events with my family and SCIO’s always stood out,” shares Karen. Back then, she was aware that SCIO (formerly known as CPA) was a charity with a strong sense of community that brought people together for a great cause. “As a teenager, you’re in your own bubble,” she says, “But being exposed to SCIO’s work was eye-opening because there were lots of people working together and there was so much support available for people navigating these new lives with disabilities.” Karen distinctly recalled realizing how challenging it was to operate a wheelchair after her participation in that day’s relay challenge.
From a young age, it was already in the back of Karen’s mind to pursue a career as a lawyer, but the focus on giving back to the community was instilled in her by her parents, who valued supporting organizations like SCIO. Shortly after she started at Oatley Vigmond in 2013, Karen was integral in forming SCIO’s first Young Professionals Board. “We ran so many wonderful events, including a mixer at Steam Whistle and a Comedy Night. Comedy Night has stuck to this day, so looking back, it feels so rewarding that I was involved in its inception,” says Karen. “It was eye-opening because I remember looking for accessible venues in the GTA in that first year. I thought Toronto would have so many, but it wasn’t the case and it changed my perspective and allowed me to see the barriers that people with disabilities face daily.”
“You can start with the click of a button from the comfort of your home or show up to an event. There is always more work to be done because our country, our province, needs to be more accessible for everyone.”
In addition to the community-building events that often raised funds for the organization and brought people together, Karen was continually impressed by the various programs offered, from advocacy to peer support to employment services. “In my professional life, I see the challenges with things like equipment and funding not going through. I see how people have to navigate certain programs and the challenges that come along with that, so it makes me appreciate the organization even more,” she says.
Although Karen loves being a lawyer and helping her clients live their lives with more ease, she does confess that there are barriers present that make it challenging each day. “The government continues to find ways to give our clients less money, which has a direct impact on people when they’re already going through such a difficult time,” she shares, “It prevents them from moving forward, so it’s a chapter they can’t close until that litigation is over.” She further shares that clients should not be burdened with having to sort out the complexities of the auto insurance sector, “I try to take these tasks off their shoulders and maximize what we can recover for them so they can be comfortable in the future. You can’t replace health, but you can try to secure them the ability to live a life as close to the one they wanted to, prior to injury.”
As for SCIO, she hopes to continue doing anything she can in advocacy, fundraising and awareness so that people with spinal cord injuries and disabilities can live their best lives and have choices. “Being a part of SCIO makes me a better lawyer and it also makes me a better and more compassionate human being,” shares Karen. She plans to instill her passion for the organization in her kids as well and highly recommends that other companies consider supporting SCIO, too. “It’s so easy to provide support,” she says, “You can start with the click of a button from the comfort of your home or show up to an event. There is always more work to be done because our country, our province, needs to be more accessible for everyone.”